Section Thirteen: Legends and Glory

            Several days later, the army arrived at the capitol to cheers, the commoners treating their arrival as a parade, calling out questions about the war. The soldiers simply returned as was true: it was over, and they had won.

            Leading the whole parade was a rather unusual assortment. General Pepper, the Baron Mirth, Fara, and Fox's entire group, riding evenly. After several moments, however, General Pepper wove an arm, partly bowing from his seat, and Fox rode in lead, his group falling back into an arrow like formation, the Baron and the General riding behind them. Fara, however, nudged her charger forward to pace Fox wordlessly. They had kept their relationship pleasant over the last few days, but were still uneasy—they weren't sure about what to do about how they felt. Fara talked to him mentally, wanting desperately to act on it, but Fox always said no, and she knew it was for the better.

            The King, having gotten messages and heard the ruckus, was waiting with a full compliment of guards. "Fara! My daughter!" He forgot all protocol and strode forward to meet her when she dismounted. "I was so afraid you would be harmed…"

            "No, father, I'm fine. Andross has been defeated, very possibly forever."

            "So I have heard. The message said that a young soldier is responsible…"

            "Your Majesty?" General Pepper stepped forward. "That is only partly true. It was Fox McCloud who defeated Andross, with your daughter's help against his magic."

            Fox, who was back in armor, had dismounted and quietly stepped forward, holding the reins of his unicorn. "Your Majesty." He dropped to one knee respectfully, bowing his head.

            The King was shocked into silence, even more so when a rag-tag group fell even with him and did the same, including a guild thief, and one of his own knights. "Peppy Hare! You are involved in this?!"

            "Yes sire. I assisted James McCloud's son because I felt it was right. These others also helped us, but it was Fox that led us. It was him that saved your daughter. He also directly defeated Andross, striking the blow that ended Andross' reign of terror." Peppy stood and bowed, dressed in full armor.

            "Indeed. Rise." The King crossed his arms, looking at the six. "A Guild Thief?! A Guild Thief assisted you, General?!"

            "Yes. He is allied to dragonkind, your Majesty. He brought us a dragon army that both defended my lines and attacked the enemy stronghold."

            The King focused on Falco, who grinned, tossing his cape back to reveal his sword. After a beat he pulled it and held it straight above him. Power writhed over it, then cracked out.

            "You called?" The copper suddenly appeared, hovering above them then landing carefully, standing on his tiptoes until people hastily moved. "Ah, your Majesty! Such a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance!"

            The King stared up, then allowed a sigh. "I can see there is much we need to discuss."

            "Indeed." The Baron Mirth stepped forward. "Your Majesty, I am the Baron Mirth, resident of the Blood Bayou, leader of the Krewe of Bones, Second in Command to the Jack of Tears, and at this moment, your humble guest." He bowed gracefully. "I am here as a representative from the Bayou. The Jack of Tears wishes a treaty."

            "A great many things that needs to be discussed." The King nodded once, looking pale. "Well, please follow me. I would very much like to hear some details…"

            "Sire?" An aide walked up. "I believe the city wants an announcement. They are waiting in the town square."

            The King rubbed his chin. "Very well then. You," He pointed to the six. "Please accompany me. And please, tell me more as we walk."

            Fox sighed, leaning on a stone wall, listening to the King's speech. He wasn't on the balcony the King spoke from, nobody was but the King was at this point in time.

            "I hate politics." Falco sighed.

            "Yes, I believe most of us do." Said Slippy, who was busily weaving magic through the air to amuse himself. One of the King's Guards had stepped through the magic spiderweb and had ended up electrocuted; since that point on the Guards had given him a wide berth.

            "… We must consider ourselves blessed, because our army has returned to us victorious. The evil army of Andross was very strong, and very nearly defeated our own soldiers…"

            "Drop the drama, your Majesty." Falco grunted. "However true it is…"

            "And only thanks to a small group of fighters, the leader of which had been given my blessing…"

            "What?" Fox lifted his head. "Blessing?"

            "… Our soldiers were able to turn the tide of the war!" The crowd let off deafening cheers, and the King turned. "Sir McCloud, if your group could join me, please?"

            Fox stepped out on to the balcony, his group filing out behind him. The sunlight hit his eyes, but he didn't wince, rather standing next the King and looking out at the crowd.

            "This young soldier is Fox McCloud, the son of well-known-and-honored Knight James McCloud. He took it upon himself to travel to the front lines of the war with his group and help fight the war. Honor them. They are our saviors." The crowd roared, and the King looked at them. "Satisfied, young McCloud?" He asked under his breath.

            "No. And you know why." He replied. "I did not do this for my own honor."

            The King frowned, looking at Fox. Fox stared back, eyes hard and cold.

            "You had my father put to death your Majesty. I have brought the real killer to justice. Clear my father's name. That's all I ever wanted out of this."

            The King nodded, and turned back to the crowd.

            "… and a three day celebration in honor of the returning soldiers." Falco laughed and kicked back. The group was sitting in the count yard of the castle.

            "Be sure to enjoy yourselves." Fox said, suddenly standing. He had been away from the group as usual, sitting cross-legged, apparently meditating. "I am leaving."

            "Fox! This whole thing is for you! Why are you leaving?" Falco followed him, waving his arms as he talked.

            "Because my work here is done, Falco. I am no longer needed. I also have no reason to attend a party." He paused. "The King lied. He didn't give me his blessing. He dishonored me."

            "Sometimes, one must sugar-coat one's words." The King stepped out of the doorway to the courtyard, right in front of Fox.

            "Your Majesty." Fox bowed. "I apologize. Do try to enjoy your celebration. But I must go."

            "Go? Young McCloud, I realize that I have not treated your family line with honor, however…"

            "However?" He paused.

            "I feel there is one thing left to do. If I may have your father's sword."

            Fox undid the sheath from his belt and held it out to the King on his open palms silently. The King took it, looking at it for a long moment, then drawing it.

"Kneel, young McCloud."

            Fox did, falling to one knee and bowing his head, not wincing when he felt the sword blade rest on his shoulder.

            "It is my hope that this will right the rest of the wrongs. Young McCloud, I knight thee Sir McCloud, Highest of the Elites, Battle Mage, and one of my most trusted servants and fighters. Rise."

            Fox wordlessly rose, accepting the broadsword back on open palms, hanging it back at his side. The weight seemed different now; now not only was it his through inheritance, it was his through right.

            "And I would feel… very privileged if you would stay through the victory celebration." The King looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

            Fox bowed. "As you wish, your majesty."

            "You hate cities, don't you?"

            Fox didn't bother turning to face who spoke to him. "No."

            Falco leaned on the balcony next to him, holding a delicate wine glass, breath smelling of the stuff. The King had held a ball, and Fox had spent most of his time avoiding everyone there, talking little to those who approached him and finally escaping to the balcony.

            "You're lying."

            "No. I'm not."

            "You're not telling the whole truth then."

            "Perhaps. I'm just uncomfortable here. There are too many people, too much noise."

            "Best you move on, then… but, perhaps not."

            "Not?" Fox looked at him.

            "Much as you love your solitude, Fox, the people here love you. You've become an ideal, a hero. They need that ideal very badly now. Times are changing at such a pace that few can keep up. They need to see that someone like them is keeping up, and as you count yourself to be a commoner, you're just that person."

            "Have your finger on the very pulse of the city, don't you?"

            "Yes, I do." Falco smiled a bit.

            There was silence for a very long moment, or as silent as it could become, with the Ball going on only a few feet behind them. Fox ignored it.

            "Evening, gentlemen." Katt joined them, now in new robes. "Falco, shall we?" She inquired.

            "Not inviting Fox?"

            "Someone wants to speak to him." She replied, and towed the thief off.

            "How true." Said a new voice after a long moment.

            "Your Highness." Fox said, turning and bowing.

            Fara now wore an exquisite dress, moving gracefully onto the balcony. "Sir McCloud." 'I believe that we both know that honorifics are no longer necessary.'

            'Perhaps. Why is it you insist on speaking to me in this fashion?' Fox turned his back to the Ball again, Fara walking up and leaning on the balcony next to him.

            'Because I can say what I wish and no one can listen. We must speak, Fox.'

            'What of?'

            She looked at him, and all the hope, desperation, and loneliness in the world was carried in that one look. He looked back, gentle, caring, unsure. 'You know what of.'

            'Yes. I do.'

            "Sir McCloud, I'd like to speak to you. In private. May I suggest the courtyard?"

            He nodded, and they silently left the ballroom floor, going down a level and into the courtyard. It was empty now, though torches and magic lights lit up the gardens and pathways.

            Fara paced for a moment, then turned to him. "May I speak freely?"

            "Of course." He did a partial bow, sweeping his arm. "You are Royalty. I don't think anyone could deny you that."

            She closed her eyes. "Fox, for a moment, forget I'm a princess. Forget I'm of royal blood." She slowed her pacing, thoughtful. "Fox, I… I'm not sure what to do. I know how I feel. I know it's true, that nothing could end it. And I know I shouldn't feel this way." She stopped, bowing her head. "I know I've felt this way since I met you, almost. And I want to know, would give anything to know, what you think and feel."

            "You know what I think and feel, Fara."

            "Then say it. Tell me it again." She stepped up to him. He looked graceful in the clothes he wore, in-style high-class clothing, a touch of elf in the tailoring, but it wasn't really him. She knew that if he had his choice, he would be far from here, dressing simply, living simply, as he had for years. "Tell me that all my hope isn't for nothing."

            He slowly let out a breath, stepping back from her, and closed his eyes. "Ever since I've met you, I've been scared. I knew the minute you spoke to me that you were the one I had been figuratively waiting for all my life. And I knew that you were someone I would quite possibly never speak to or even see again." He sighed and shook his head. "Destiny is a peculiar thing. The moment I heard that you had been spirited away, I knew it was time to start living as I had been trained to, start living the life of a warrior." He looked down at her, into her eyes. "Of course I told myself it was for another reason. That I was trying to clear my father's name. True enough I suppose, but not correct. I didn't want to live in his shadow. I wanted to not only have his name honored, but have mine honored as well, and destiny called. Now, with my tasks complete…"

            She watched in a combination of awe and shock as his calm aura disappeared, and suddenly she was looking at someone so emotional, so charged with energy he seemed to be a completely different person. He smiled a bit, and suddenly tossed an arm out and up, as if to touch the stars, as if to be among them.

            "Perhaps now it is time to stop living what I have been taught." He stepped away, gait suddenly easy, relaxed, unrestrained. "And just live."

            "I'm afraid I don't understand."

            "Neither do I. Isn't it wonderful?" He threw out his arms and laughed, then was suddenly calm and contained again. "I am but a hopeless romantic, Milady, an eager, untaught lover whose devotion you yourself enslave. I am trained in the ways of Bushido. I journeyed across the country to assist in a war against a madman. And I will tell you now, that I will love you until the stars cease to burn. Even though I know that this is forbidden by proper protocol, I also know that it is impossible to deny what I feel now." One stride, and suddenly he was right in front of her, almost nose-to-nose with her. "Because I think this was meant to be."

            She had been silently listening to this monologue, eyes wide at this suddenly careless, energetic admittance, staring up at him.

            He grew even calmer, suddenly the Samari-trained knight again, not showing a shadow of who he had just been. "I apologize for my outburst. That is how I behave without my discipline. It seemed most appropriate to show you who I am under this façade." The bright, undisciplined smile came back into his eyes. "So. Now you know how I feel, your Highness. Are you satisfied now?"

            She took a step back and almost fell onto a stone bench, repeating his words over and over in her head. "That wasn't quite what I expected, I admit."

            "Always expect the unexpected. Which of course makes the unexpected the expected, which means there is no unexpected to expect… and so on!" Another form came out of nowhere and landed on the bench right next to her, cape flapping, holding a violin.

            "Alan!" Fox scolded as Fara yelped, hand on her chest. "You know better then to startle a young lady like that! Now apologize!"

            "M'lady." Alan grabbed Fara's hand and kissed it before he sprung up. "Why aren't you at the party?" He looked at Fara. "And why haven't you kissed her?" He looked at Fox.

            "Alan!" Fox looked like he wanted to slap the insane man upside the head.

            "You have refreshingly different friends, Fox." Fara said, starting to laugh, unable to help herself.

            "Go to the party, Alan. We will be along shortly." Fox assured the musician.

            "If you say so." Alan sprang off, dancing a jig, playing his violin, and running at the same time.

            "Blood Bayou, am I correct?" Fara looked to Fox, standing.

            "Yes. Krewe of Mangroves to be exact."

            "He fits it."

            "He knows that fact well and loves it." He shook his head. "He revels in his insanity. Perhaps it helps him with his music."

            "Perhaps."

            They spent several idle minutes looking at each other, then Fara slowly stepped into him, leaning her cheek against his shoulder. He lifted his arms, draping them slowly around her waist.

            "You'll leave the city soon enough, won't you?"

            "I'm afraid so."

            "But you're coming back, aren't you?"

            "I wouldn't have it any other way, m'lady. After all, do I not have a princess to court?" The bright, uncontained smile returned, showing in his voice.

            She slowly returned the smile, leaning her weight into him. "Yes, I believe you do."

            The sounds of the ball drifted to them, but they ignored it for the time being, content as they were, standing as one under a crescent moon.